By Hamilton Leiser
This Comment addresses the issue of valuing social media influence and then examines methods of dividing the value of social media influence in divorce proceedings. As social media expands throughout society, many individuals have turned their social media presence into a source of income through their influence over others who follow that individual on social media. These individuals, labeled social media influencers, use their social media personas to create both tangible and intangible value.
First, this Comment describes the various types of social media and how each is used by social media influencers. Next, it argues that social media influence is property that has value and explores various methods of valuing that influence, primarily through the actual income generated from sponsored content. Sponsored content involves any content a social media influencer posts or promotes in exchange for payment. However, this Comment argues that the social media influencer’s value comes not solely from the money based on sponsored content, but that the social media influencer has an intangible value in his or her likeness because the social media influencer depends on his or her likeness to actually have said influence over his or her followers. After offering various methods of valuation for social media influence, this Comment then presents a basic view of divorce proceedings in both common law and community property states. Next, this Comment examines cases that are analogous to social media influence.
This Comment recommends an income valuation method with reversed jurisdiction for valuing social media influence for divorce proceeding purposes. The income valuation method would factor in both the personal and enterprise goodwill of the social media influencer and his or her account, and project that value into the future. However, because social media influence can be extremely volatile, the reversed jurisdiction would allow the court to make adjustments to the projections if necessary. This value would then be split between the spouses, with the non-social media influencer spouse receiving payment similar to alimony. Further, courts should adopt a standard approach that considers various factors regarding the social media influencer and the marriage, such as when the social media influencer started as an influencer and whether the spouses shared the social media account. Because the number of social media influencers continues to grow rapidly, it is only a matter of time before courts will have to face this issue. Adopting a single, uniform approach would simply the process for everyone and reduce the amount of conflict and inconsistency in the court system.
Hamilton Leiser, Unfollowed: Examining the Property Rights of Social Media Influence in Divorce Proceedings, SMU Sci. & Tech. L. Rev. Blog (2019), https://smulawjournals.org/stlr/2020/03/26/unfollowed-examining-the-property-rights-of-social-media-influence-in-divorce-proceedings/.
About the Author
Hamilton Leiser is a 2020 candidate for Juris Doctor from SMU Dedman School of Law. He received a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Austin in 2016. Hamilton would like to thank Professor Weaver for her help and guidance on this Comment.